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Japan: On a (California) Roll

Japan. It's already trounced our auto industry, now it's aiming for our hearts and minds.

Well, not really. It's aiming for our stomachs. But still -- it just may win. Remember when the idea of eating raw fish sounded like eating raw liver? Now look at you, with your eel this, and wasabi that. Japan knows how to change American culture and what do we have to parry with?

Edible balloons.

Trust me: I just ate my way through the International Restaurant Show and, according to a seminar on "Food Trends," the latest American invention is the mozzarella balloon.

By Lenore Skenazy

Japan. It's already trounced our auto industry, now it's aiming for our hearts and minds.

Well, not really. It's aiming for our stomachs. But still -- it just may win. Remember when the idea of eating raw fish sounded like eating raw liver? Now look at you, with your eel this, and wasabi that. Japan knows how to change American culture and what do we have to parry with?

Edible balloons.

Trust me: I just ate my way through the International Restaurant Show and, according to a seminar on "Food Trends," the latest American invention is the mozzarella balloon.

These eerie orbs are made by warming the cheese and then somehow blowing it up, like those amazing bubbles kids used to make with special (vaguely toxic) Wham-O fluid. Drizzled with a balsamic reduction, the bladder-like balls are then deflated by the diner with a prick of the fork. Provided that the diner has not fled the restaurant, screaming.

It's hard to say who's really eager to eat an appetizer that looks straight out of "Grey's Anatomy," but, in any event, those balls just show how desperate we are. We're scraping the bottom of the cheese barrel. Most of the real breakthroughs were to be found in the Japanese pavilion.

For starters, there's GoGo Curry, the top curry chain in Japan, aiming to open in the States next month. The only food GoGo sells is a bowl of rice smothered in thick, lumpy, dark brown sauce. It looks so revolting you'd think we could rest easy, but my God -- it tastes like a cross between curry, teriyaki and Julia Child's pan drippings. It's spectacular! And then it's topped with a helping of meat, chicken, shrimp or egg. How can the Colonel possibly compete with THAT?

So much for America's fast food advantage. But extremely slow food from Japan is coming, too. "In Japan, you're either trained as a sushi chef, a tempura chef or a kaiseki chef," according to food publicist Steven Hall. Kaiseki, he believes, is the next big thing: a meal consisting of many tiny delicacies, each served in an attractive little dish.

Tapas meets Toyota. Can't miss.

And just as we've all got a fondue pot somewhere in the basement from that brief moment of Swiss cultural hegemony, so we may soon have a home tofu maker, too. Those machines are on the way, as are Japanese strawberries the size of cupcakes and Wagyu beef, which is to Kobe beef as a Lamborghini is to a Lexus. Wagyu is so marbled that it actually looks (and tastes) like high-priced lard. And since when have Americans been able to resist fatty meat?

In a desperate attempt to promote all-American ingenuity, homegrown purveyors were touting things like Carmi Flavors' pancake-scented coffee. "If someone wants chocolate chunk with fish, we'll make it, too," said the salesman, John Duff.

And we wonder why the dollar's dropping.

A chicken company was pushing its new dipping sauce that tastes like raspberry jelly and, unfortunately, makes dinner taste like a school lunch. And then there's Molson Coors' orange juice-flavored concoction, Blue Moon. The result is a beer that tastes great at breakfast.

I'm not sure that's what our country needs.

Whether orange beer, fatty beef or Japanese curry is going to be the next maki roll is anyone's guess. But I think we can all pretty much predict the fate of the mozzarella balloon. And American cuisine.

Lenore Skenazy is a contributing editor at the New York Sun. Find out more about Lenore Skenazy at www.lenoretown.com).
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